With Final Iowa Count, Obama's Lead Increases

On Saturday, Sen. Barack Obama netted nine additional delegates — eight of them former John Edwards supporters — after Iowa finalized its count from the January contest. Given Obama's increasing delegate lead, Politico.com's Jim VandeHei says Sen. Hillary Clinton would have to "crush" Obama in Florida and Michigan recounts to retain any hope of winning the presidential nomination.

VandeHei says Obama can "pretty much count on" reaching the end of the nominating process with more pledged delegates than Clinton. He says this will be true even if Michigan and Florida are recounted. His advice to Clinton for making sure those critical revotes even happen? "I would tap into the fortunes she's amassed and pay for the stinking elections," VandeHei says. "She needs Florida and Michigan to count, and she needs to win by large margins."

For now, VandeHei says, a more pressing issue is Obama's handling of Rev. Jeremiah Wright, whose apparently anti-American comments during his sermons have drawn serious fire. "It's the first time Obama's had to do damage control," VandeHei says, discussing Obama's appearances on television late Friday to address the matter. "It's the first time he's been in a crisis mode."

VandeHei says he's talked to a number of important party officials who want to support Obama but who are really troubled by his intimacy with Wright — and are as yet unconvinced by the senator's discussion of that relationship. VandeHei says it's hard to believe the sermons in question were isolated — just as it's equally hard to imagine Obama didn't know more about Wright than he lets on. "He's had an association with this man for 20 years," VandeHei says. "He baptized his children."

Are controversial opinions always a liability? As a result of pressure, Wright stepped down, as did the Clinton campaign's Geraldine Ferraro and former Obama adviser Samantha Power. VandeHei says that in trying to practice a "new kind of politics," candidates have no choice but to force out people with loud opinions. "And they probably should be kicked out," VandeHei says.

As for Republican Sen. John McCain, who visited Iraq this weekend, VandeHei stopped short of calling the visit a photo op. But he gave a measured appraisal of how much impact such a trip could have. "When you're in an out of Iraq, there's very little you can see or do," he says. "They clear out an entire neighborhood for you."

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